Friday, 29 August 2008

Two Halves At Chertsey

You can't beat a good old football cliché whether it’s "sick as a parrot", "over the moon", "each game as it comes" or "there are no easy games in football". Don't you just love 'em? All desperate attempts, normally uttered by managers or coaches, to con us simple folk (me and you) into thinking that this game is a difficult one to comprehend. Phrases of disguise used to belie real meanings such as "we played like a bunch of pillocks today" or "I haven't a clue how to manage this shower" or perhaps "the local deaf, dumb and blind school would have played us off the park".

The one cliché most frequently used is "a game of two halves" and is quite unique in the world of football-speak in that it's a quite literal phrase. It does what it says on the tin. "We were abominable in the first half, but we were world-beaters in the second". A game of two halves. Quite straightforward really.

Down at my local club Chertsey Town, use of the 'two halves' cliché is quite apt at the moment. The 2008-09 football season is well underway; four Combined Counties League games and two FA Cup matches played with September still a few days distant. Everything is looking rosy on the pitch; the 'Curfews' are perched at the top of the CCL Premier Division, with a four win 100% record and have already scored an impressive eighteen goals. In the FA Cup, Chertsey negotiated a tricky Extra Preliminary Round tie with Deal Town (the team that beat Chertsey 5-1 last season in the FA Vase) with a 2-1 replay win down in Kent. I went to the first game that ended 2-2 and Chertsey looked impressive; only a uncharacteristic defensive blunder towards the end of that game forced a second match.

All in all, a great start. The Surrey club are benefiting from the arrival of Spencer Day, owner and manager. Mr Day was previously known as Spencer Trethewy who, as a teenager, shot to fame when he saved Aldershot FC from closure in 1990. He has a chequered history though; his love affair with Aldershot was short lived when he was kicked off the Aldershot board as it transpired he was unable to repay the money he loaned to rescue the club. Fans still blame him for taking the club to the brink of extinction. Her Majesty's Government also had a view on his money management technique and convicted him for two years behind bars. He purchased Chertsey Town at the start of last season and has since invested heavily in the club, which now boasts a brand new playing surface and new kits for the fifteen teams that come under the club's umbrella. Mr Day has attracted a number of players of reasonable quality and in his own words "the squad assembled is the most talented Chertsey Town has seen for at least ten years and maybe more". If the results on the pitch so far this season are anything to go by, this could be a good nine months for the club.

But off the pitch things appear not to be as rosy. If local newspaper reports are to be believed, the club has allegedly run up significant debts. As the debts continue to mount, trustees of the club are refusing to bail them out. Chertsey Town was on the verge of bankruptcy in the 1960s and back then the trustees came to the rescue. But forty years on, the trustees are distancing themselves from the Alwyns Lane outfit which could leave the club in real difficulty. If all this is true - I have no reason to believe otherwise - it may be a worrying few months off the pitch for Chertsey Town. The local newspapers carry "soccer in crisis" headlines which is all rather sad considering their great start to the campaign.

Contrasting pictures on and off the green-turfed canvas then for my local club. The immediate future for Chertsey Town seems rather unpredictable with good and bad news emanating from the club in equal measure. Chertsey Town's 2008-09 season could very well develop into a game of two halves. But which will prevail?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Chasing The Vase

It has been a rather hectic summer for me. After last season's FA Cup exploits, in which I travelled over hill and dale in search of real football, I have had little time to sit down and reflect on what was quite an experience. Writing a blog, fielding newspaper interviews, even a slot on the radio and a brief appearance in front of a TV camera were all alien to me and somewhat surreal. Not to mention the great football along the way.

But I entered the summer months, with Euro 2008 and the Beijing Olympics on the horizon, knowing I was going to be kept very busy. The FA Cup blog turned into an FA Cup book; details, if you are interested, can be found here. Writing a book is a first for me, and as much as the FA Cup journey itself was a real eye-opener, so was publishing a tome about it. I have learnt so much in a short space of time. Whoever said "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" was wrong, frankly. But that is a different story - suffice to stay I have not stood still for four months.

Whilst all that was going on, I had in the back of my mind plans for a significantly more low-key venture for this new season, 2008-09. Many have asked "would I be doing the FA Cup journey again?" The answer? Maybe in a few years' time, but not again so soon. But I felt as if I should do something. I enjoyed many, many things about the FA Cup last season: the new grounds; the travelling to uncharted parts of the country; making new acquaintances and friends. But the fondest memory is that of watching non League football, down in the lower reaches of the English football pyramid. The tiny grounds, the part-time clubs, the small but dedicated helpers, all in places I'd never heard of before.

So for this season I have chosen to take a butchers at the Vase - the FA's knockout competition for clubs at Steps 5, 6 and 7. Another journey to Wembley is on the cards and seems appropriate. Last season's FA Vase winners were Kirkham & Wesham (since renamed AFC Fylde) who beat Lowestoft in the Final. Those names alone give you an idea of the level of football we are talking about. I know I won't attract as much interest as I did last season, but that's not why I'm doing it. Getting into the matches will be far easier; the only real challenge will be the possible distances to travel, once again a potential nightmare if I should be faced with a mid-week replay. I'm already looking forward to a journey into the unknown, and having no control over where in the country I will be sent or who I will meet along the way.

As the publication date for my FA Cup book approaches I can begin to breathe a little easier and focus on my 2008-09 journey. This season 513 teams have entered the FA Vase and I will start (as I did last season in the FA Cup) with my local club, Chertsey Town. They have been drawn away, in the First Round Qualifying (on Saturday 6th September 2008) to Sussex County League Division One side Oakwood.

Never heard of them? No - neither have I. This is where the fun starts.